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Power to the People! Black Lives Matter mural on the Dill Pickle Food Co-op building in Logan Square. Mural artist: Chris Orta.

Equity & Planning: An Award-Winning ETOD Action Plan for Logan Square

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Guest article courtesy of Cindy Cambray

In 2018, Elevated Chicago partnered with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) to create an equitable transit-oriented development (ETOD) action plan for the Blue Line station in Logan Square. 

Palenque Liberating Spaces through Neighborhood Action (Palenque LSNA for short, formerly the Logan Square Neighborhood Association) served as the lead community partner on the plan. They are a prominent community-based organization that has been embedded in the Logan Square community for over 60 years. They are a self-described catalyst for “strategic action for systemic change and a just, resilient, and joyful future.”

Fast forward to 2023, the Logan Square Blue Line ETOD Action Plan wins the very first-ever award for Advancing Diversity and Social Change from the American Planning Association – Illinois Chapter.

Accepting the APA Illinois Chapter Advancing Diversity and Social Change award. Photo credit: APA Illinois website.

I was part of creating the action plan as a former planner at CMAP and the former Capital & Programs Working Group co-chair with Elevated Chicago. This project speaks to the reasons I got into the planning field and the change that can happen when collaboration between organizations goes right and when community members are put at the center of changes taking place in their community.

CMAP’s Commitment to Community

I’m excited to share all of the ways in which equity was reflected in this planning project, but I’d like to start by emphasizing that, when it comes to planning with communities of color, representation matters. Working with a professional that has lived experience, that trusts communities to know what is best for them, and that drives solutions that embody the self-identified needs and desires of the community was an important piece of bringing equity to this plan.

For those unfamiliar with CMAP, it’s the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for northeastern Illinois, and it happens to be the third largest in the nation, after the Los Angeles and New York City areas. MPOs were created by the federal government as a way to funnel funding into transportation projects and programs throughout different regions in the nation. They are responsible for deciding how millions of dollars in funding are dispersed throughout regions and to whom.

Members of Future Leaders in Planning (FLIP), a CMAP urban planning program for high school students, from their trip to the Chinese American Museum of Chicago. Photo credit: CMAP.
Members of Future Leaders in Planning (FLIP), a CMAP urban planning program for high school students, from their trip to the Chinese American Museum of Chicago. Photo credit: CMAP.

I explain all of this to say that ETOD is different from how government funding has historically been used. Government and the planning profession have harmed communities. CMAP, however, has made a commitment to partner with communities, to build new relationships, and to repair old harms. This ETOD project, which puts equity at the forefront, is a very much-needed change from how the government has historically funded projects.

How My Lived Experience Has Influenced My Career and Interest in ETOD

CMAP’s Community Alliance for Regional Equity (CARE), a compensated group of community-based organizations that work with CMAP to make their investment processes more equitable and strengthen community collaboration, at their retreat in Batavia, Illinois. Cindy served as the Project Manager for CARE.
CMAP’s Community Alliance for Regional Equity (CARE), a compensated group of community-based organizations that work with CMAP to make their investment processes more equitable and strengthen community collaboration, at their retreat in Batavia, Illinois. Cindy served as the Project Manager for CARE.

During my tenure at CMAP as a Senior Planner, I managed the Logan Square Blue Line ETOD Action Plan. As a Latina raised in Chicago’s Little Village community, I have a first-hand understanding of the structural barriers to social and economic progress that people of color face, which is why I’ve worked for nearly two decades to create inclusive growth for our region. 

My drive for equity has evolved over the years and stems from who I am and where I came from. I am the proud daughter of Mexican immigrants; a first generation to be born in this country, to have gone to college and beyond, and to not just be a professional but a highly respected, trusted, and sought out leader in my field. 

Completing the 2023 Civic Leadership Academy at Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. Photo credit: University of Chicago website.
Completing the 2023 Civic Leadership Academy at Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. Photo credit: University of Chicago website.

I grew up in a working-class, Spanish-speaking household where my parents worked tirelessly to provide me with every opportunity they’d only dreamt of. Like many immigrant children, I became a translator for my parents and relied on my teachers for academic support. 

Early on, I recall wanting to be a teacher to “give back,” as they were my advocates. But I also recall not understanding why my parents’ inability to speak English fluently was enough to often exclude them from many important conversations involving my future. From a very early age, I’ve been working towards being an advocate and making important conversations accessible to all community members.

Talking to FLIP high school students about creating resilient, equitable communities. Photo credit: CMAP.
Talking to FLIP high school students about creating resilient, equitable communities. Photo credit: CMAP.

I began my career at the community level, organizing around issues that impacted the most vulnerable and disenfranchised. I’ve worked in the political realm under President Obama, seizing on the opportunity to implement tactical change in an environment that was ripe for progress. The bulk of my career has been dedicated to putting my planning and policy degree to practice. 

As a young planner, I was frustrated by standardized approaches that would not lead us to equitable processes or outcomes. My experiences as an organizer working directly with people and building meaningful relationships very much impact my approach to planning. In my capacity as a government professional, I pride myself on leading innovative approaches to make engagement more equitable and inclusive of communities that are traditionally excluded from the planning process and to empower people with lived experience in the conversations that determine what happens in their communities.

Why Community-Led ETOD Is Needed in Logan Square

CMAP team members having a conversation with a community member about their lived experience and needs.
CMAP team members having a conversation with a community member about their lived experience and needs.

Once a predominantly Latinx community, Logan Square’s long-standing residents are being displaced due to gentrification and rising housing costs. This displacement has considerably altered the demographic profile of Logan Square – residents and businesses that made the neighborhood the attractive hotspot it is today have moved away due to rising rents and the cost of living, making way for new residents and businesses that don’t look like or represent the culture that made Logan Square one of Chicago’s fastest-rising neighborhoods.

Equitable growth includes celebrating and prioritizing local culture – the culture that has existed for decades – and the retention of current residents. ETODs intentionally seek to bring positive enhancements to Black and Brown communities by using transportation assets, like train stops, as building blocks to bring benefits to residents like new economic opportunity, housing affordability, and recreational options. 

Logan Square Blue Line ETOD Action Plan team hosting an open house for the plan at Palenque LSNA's 2023 annual Congress.
Logan Square Blue Line ETOD Action Plan team hosting an open house for the plan at Palenque LSNA's 2023 annual Congress.

The Logan Square Blue Line ETOD Action Plan used public transit as a community asset to drive neighborhood vitality in a way that was reflective of residents’ needs and wants. It is built upon collaborative, community-led solutions that address neighborhood displacement and inequities. By taking a holistic approach to planning for the station area, the strategies outlined in the plan considered a variety of intents, including:

  • Increasing transit accessibility and ease of use
  • Encouraging more walking and biking
  • Preserving legacy and small businesses
  • Protecting the immigrant community
  • Providing safe and welcoming spaces for the existing community, and
  • Making the built environment more accessible and safer for all users regardless of age or ability

In addition, the action plan focuses on a range of critical community aspects, including neighborhood spaces, economic development, housing, community identity, access and mobility, health and environment, and arts and culture. The plan’s strategies advance principles of equitable transit-oriented development and preserve spaces that enable long standing residents and businesses to stay in Logan Square.

How Community Members Informed the ETOD Action Plan for Logan Square

Artist William Estrada of the Mobile Street Art Cart making “Here to Stay” screen-printed tote bags at Palenque LSNA's 2022 annual Congress.
Artist William Estrada of the Mobile Street Art Cart making “Here to Stay” screen-printed tote bags at Palenque LSNA's 2022 annual Congress.

The project itself was launched in the summer of 2021, still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many vulnerable communities, Logan Square’s challenges became exacerbated during this time. To lessen the burden of planning fatigue during the pandemic, my team and I made every effort to be responsive to the community. 

We did not do traditional planning workshops where we asked the community about assets and challenges but instead did the legwork, learning from and building upon the community’s efforts in numerous past planning efforts, like the Hermosa and Logan Square West: Here to Stay quality of life plan and the Chicago United for Equity (CUE) Racial Equity Impact Assessment CDOT – Chicago Complete Streets: North Milwaukee Avenue Project

As experts on their communities, members were compensated for their intellectual property. When CMAP was not able to offer traditional means of payment, we offered screen-printed tote bags with original art that was co-designed with the community. The tote bags featured the name of the Logan Square land trust, “Here to Stay”, an anti displacement effort by neighbors. It is a homeownership model of affordable housing for longtime residents. 

“Here to Stay” screen-printed tote bags being decorated by Logan Square youth.
“Here to Stay” screen-printed tote bags being decorated by Logan Square youth.

Rather than hosting generic, standalone engagement events, we took specific plan topics to tailored events and audiences – we wanted to meet people where they wanted to gather. We asked trusted community authorities like Palenque LSNA, which allowed us to co-develop housing recommendations for this plan with their existing, long-standing housing committee. The project included qualitative interviews to focus on community narratives, in addition to teaching community members how to conduct qualitative interviews in order to empower them to tell their own stories. 

A central piece of the planning process was engaging Logan Square’s youth leaders. Palenque LSNA’s youth fellows actively participated in the formation phase of the process, which provided a youth perspective and helped energize the youth leaders to take ownership of the action plan as it transitions from planning to implementation. Most importantly, people, empathy, and joy were at the center for this plan.

The final plan was then unveiled at the Palenque LSNA annual congress, which drew 250 community residents and leaders from 44 member organizations and featured keynote speaker Mayor Brandon Johnson. 

Palenque LSNA youth fellows after wrapping up a six-weekend workshop series for the plan.
Palenque LSNA youth fellows after wrapping up a six-weekend workshop series for the plan.

Celebrating Successful Cross-Organizational Collaboration

While this plan took under three years to complete, it took so many pieces coming together to be able to bring equity to the forefront of this planning project. My lived experience and being frustrated early in my career by “check the box” public engagement led me to have the audacity to hold government accountable for advancing equity, but by no means do I aim to take all the credit — it took a proverbial village to bring this plan together. 

It took Elevated Chicago, an organization with equity central to its mission, behooving a transportation agency for technical assistance with ETOD. 

It took a talented team of CMAP planners and consultants willing to be responsive to community needs and daring to push the envelope with unorthodox techniques and deliverables that were blazing new trails – like this zine, which was developed to culturally represent and visually address residents’ ideas and concerns, or a market analysis that aims to preserve and enable long-standing businesses to stay in Logan Square.

Logan Square Blue Line Equitable Transit-Oriented Development Plan zine.
Logan Square Blue Line Equitable Transit-Oriented Development Plan zine.

It took partnering with the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to obtain flexible funding that could be used to compensate community stakeholders for their intellectual property.

Most importantly, it took the Logan Square community coming together, thanks to Palenque LSNA. We worked hand in hand to shape recommendations for the Logan Square Blue Line ETOD Action Plan and put our very best efforts towards an equitable process and outcomes. Without this village, centering equity in the planning process, there wouldn’t be an award-winning plan.

Cindy Cambray headshot

Cindy Cambray (she/her/ella) 

Relationship Manager, Build Up Cook

Cook County Bureau of Asset Management

Build Up Cook will invest $20M+ in critical infrastructure in the County’s most vulnerable municipalities. 

Former Co-Chair for Elevated Chicago’s Capital and Programs Working Group

Want to learn more about community-led ETOD in Logan Square?

@elevatedchicago Grand Opening at Lucy Gonzalez Parson Apartments 🎉🎉🎉 #logansquare #chicago #etod #walkablecities #transit ♬ original sound - elevatedchicago

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